Dave Harcourt is CEO of Swale Community Leisure who recently signed up as a Starting Blocks silver partner. To celebrate this new partnership and to lead by example with fundraising, Dave undertook a four-day Starting Blocks Challenge, cycling 150 miles around the south coast of England.

The partnership is  a continuation of the relationship the Trust and Swale have had since 2016 when they came on board as the delivery partner on a number of Get on Track programmes in the Kent region. Young people like Courtney and Luke worked with Trust athlete mentors and the team at Swale to develop confidence, resilience and self-esteem and move into employment following their participation in Get on Track. We spoke to Dave before and after he completed his challenge.

Why did Swale Community Leisure want to become a Starting Blocks Partner?

Becoming a partner with the Trust is really a continuation of the work we have done together since 2016, supporting young people in Kent through programmes and targeted interventions. We felt that firming up the partnership would be mutually beneficial and offer the opportunity to create social impact.

After lockdown the need for support has never been greater for young people and in particular the leisure industry has become quite downtrodden. We’re hoping this partnership is going to really benefit our young members by encouraging them to set themselves targets and take up challenges of their own.

What do you see as the main issues facing young people today?

There is a long list of issues facing the young people we see at the moment, but if I had to give a top three, I would say they are: 

  1. Aspirations and expectations are very low with young people. It’s very difficult to raise your game when you don’t have anything to aspire to.
  2. We are seeing a massive increase in mental health issues amongst teenagers who have missed out on two years of their lives. The pandemic has put a lot of additional pressure on young people who always had a lot of pressure at this time of their lives.
  3. Finally, we see high levels of inequality in Kent, in health, economy and opportunity. In one county there are massive changes in life expectancy in some of the different areas due to the levels of inequality.


What was the inspiration for your Starting Blocks Challenge?

I was the Chair of the Children and Young People part of the bid to bring the 2012 London Olympics torch relay to Dover for an overnight stop and in a nice bit of symmetry, Dame Kelly Holmes was a big part of the event. Being successful in the bid and the success of the relay itself in our area brought a lot of credibility to the organisation I was working for and also for myself. It really felt like 2012 was a big year and a big marker and milestone in my life so my challenge was to look back on this and reflect on it a decade on. My adventure was to follow the route of the torch relay and cycle from Brighton to Eastbourne, through Rye and Folkestone back to Dover, finishing off in Minster in Thanet.  150 miles on two wheels on my own over four days.

How did the challenge go?

I completed the challenge in one piece I was pleased to say! While there were some tough bits along the way such as the climb up to Beachy Head, the experience overall was fantastic. Cycling so far unsupported over the four days, as difficult as it was, allowed me to gain some perspective of how the young people we deal with, who may have to face difficulties of similar or worse challenges in their everyday lives, might feel.


Ben Hilton, CEO, Dame Kelly Holmes Trust said:

We’re delighted to welcome Swale Community Leisure as a partner. Following on from our existing successful relationship, this is a fantastic way for us to further engage with the local community in and around Swale, creating more opportunities to support local young people. Absolutely brilliant effort Dave on your Starting Blocks Challenge!

If you’re impressed by Dave’s story, you can still sponsor him via his Starting Blocks Challenge page. If you’re inspired to take on your own challenge, you can set up your own page and share your story here. Other members of the Swale Community Leisure team will be taking on Starting Blocks Challenges of their own later in the year, and we look forward to following them on their challenge.